Mamo #304: Mamo After Breakfast

The first prequel-sequel in the Star Trek reborquel lands with a wet thud and Team Mamo assembles to discuss what went wrong with Star Trek Into Darkness

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Matt Brown
Matt Brown co-hosts the Mamo!, Super Zero, Get Your Cast To Mars, and My So-Cast Life podcasts, and has a weekly column at Screen Anarchy called Destroy All Monsters. Imagine Thor crossed with a 12-year-old girl.


  1. You mention how Star Trek was strongly male in the exit polls, but didn’t mention how old it was pulling. 27% under 25 versus 73% 25 and over. Compared to say Iron Man where it is 45% under 25 and 55% 25 and over. That only gives a small picture rather than a larger age breakdown.

    Still that’s quite the devoid of younger audience interested in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

    As for the question of Khan and whether he should have been marketed, I’m not sure it would have mattered. As someone else mentioned in another thread just about anyone who knows who Khan is, is already seeing Into Darkness. That said, no matter who the character is they could have built him up more in the advertisements.

    That said, both Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Intro Darkness have a big character reveal in their movies. It completely works in Iron Man and doesn’t quite pack the same punch in Star Trek.

    • I disagree. I’m not suggesting that they should have revealed it was Khan 2 weeks ago and said “see you at the theatres!” I’m suggesting that they should have revealed it 2 years ago and created a marketing strategy around building awareness of who Khan is, for fans and non-fans alike. There are ways to do this. They could have piggy-backed on the awareness of people who are already familiar with the franchise to drive excitement to those who aren’t – instead they chose to hide their most important marketing asset in plain sight.

      • Official quotes about the secrecy:

        “The characters believe he is one person: John Harrison. If everything you know going into the movie is “It’s a guy named Khan,” even if you don’t even know who Khan is, you know that you’re watching a film where for forty-five minutes or an hour of the movie you are ahead of the characters. So you’re just kind of waiting for them to catch up with what you already know, that he is not who he says he is. So there’s the general idea of going to see a movie and allowing it to unfold as it normally does.”

        – Producer Brian Burk

        “The story most people are engaged in and know is Wrath of Khan, but a lot of people don’t know about Space Seed, which was the origin story for that character and that happens to be the time and space in which our movie was taking place. We knew if the Enterprise came across The Botany Bay, the audience would know something the Bridge crew did not, which was ‘Whatever you do, don’t wake that dude up.’ So we didn’t want to put the Bridge crew behind the audience in terms of what they knew about Trek.”

        – Co-Writer Damon Lindelof

        • As I said in the episode, the *whole concept* of having Khan having a secret identity in the movie is needless to the plot. What does it contribute?

          I understand Lindelof’s point somewhat but I think that’s a pretty weak argument. Batman doesn’t know who the Joker is when Gordon hands him the card at the end of Batman Begins, but we do; that’s why the beat works. There’s nothing wrong with having the audience ahead of your characters for a portion of the narrative.

          • Particularly for a franchise with that kind of history. But not only do they completely screw up the Khan reveal in the film, but the character is rather lack-luster as well, outside some impressive physical strength and gun accuracy, you don’t get the sense that NuKhan is all that bright.

          • But there isn’t forty-five minutes of Batman behind in getting to figure out who the Joker is, or a reveal of the Joker… it is known from frame one practically. That example doesn’t work. Not to mention, there is NO back story to Joker in Nolan universe. Both the audience and Batman know about as much about him from the end of Batman Begins to the end of Dark Knight.

            What does Khan character being buried in the story contribute? Suspense. A sense of a story unfolding without foreknowledge, a rare gift in this modern world of nerdism.
            They have the alternate universe to play with already, why not obscure where you are going by that conceit? It makes perfect sense to me.

          • Suspense of what? The first thing we watch the character do is coerce a man into blowing up a building in the middle of a city. We know he’s a bad, bad, bad guy. What does it matter what his name is at that point?

          • honestly, I thought it was Q. And without knowing exactly who it is, you are allowed to speculate and come up with possible dangers that were never there, it allows you to use what geek foreknowledge of possibilities against you to up the ante of how dangerous this guy might be.

            There are ever-increasing categories of dangerous. Him being just a talented terrorist is less foreboding.

          • The whole the audience knows more than the characters can work to the director’s advantage. Isn’t that Hitchcock’s classic bomb under the table scenario?

  2. also it was mentioned somewhere else about the importance of arcs, and will comment here:

    arcs ought to be grace notes not impetus for everything. There are arcs in STID but they are hardly the point of it anymore than arcs (not arks) in Indiana Jones matter, it is about pleasuring in the adventure with a group of characters that you enjoy hanging out with. There is a mystery, but it may as well be a scooby-doo mystery. It is a device to get the characters running around, quipping, have harrowing moments, have archetypes we have come to love do their thing (in perpetuity not for arc growth).

    Start Trek characters came from an era when there was none of this modern seasonal arc growth to characters, it was about philosophy and pulp adventure, and the characters were fixed, and we loved them because they stayed the same.

    There might even be something presentist to Abrams incarnation of storytelling, as I quote a passage from Present Shock:

    “…presentist literature might even be considered a new genre in which writers are more concerned with the worlds they create than with the characters living within them. As Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, explained in an interview, it is no longer the writer’s job to ‘tell us how somebody felt about something, it is to tell us how the world works’… Characters must learn how their universes work. Narrativity is replaced by something more like putting together a puzzle by making connections and recognizing patterns.”

    • It should be noted that there is a wonderful character arc in Temple of Doom, perhaps the only Indy movie that plays with the notion of his character. And since it is a prequel of sorts, it makes sense to see him go from Mercenary to altruist in that one.

      • There are character arcs in all three of the (real) Indiana Jones movies. He begins as a nonbeliever in whatever the mystical powers of the artifact in question are, and by the end of the movie has to demonstrate belief/faith in those mystical powers in order to win. It ain’t Lumet, but I’ll take it. The point is: the character needs to change his behaviour in order to overcome the obstacle. What behaviour does Kirk, or Spock, change in order to defeat Khan?

        • Would it be a terrible thing if the arcs had to do with the interrelationships of the crew and that the outside force was a just a means of enacting these domestic squabbles to fruition? To me the main arc is between the friendship of Kirk and Spock, Spock learning to be less Vulcan, more human, of the characters reversing roles and in the process growing to understand one another and deepen their friendship (a keystone of the whole show). Kirk is required to self-sacrifice (of course mirroring what Spock tried to do in the beginning) and Spock is given a chance to see the experience from Kirk’s perspective. The obstacle in the arc is not Kahn, it is Spock’s Vulcan tendencies which are overcome by this role-reversal.

        • I totally agree that character arcs has nothing to do with which “Era” the story comes from.

          And also it’s obvious that Indy relying on Deus Ex Machina at the end is a recurring motif in these movies. (Almost all Spielberg movies have that trope.) Spielberg characters tries and tries and at the end they give up and say “OK, God, now you can do your job.”

          But I disagree about the idea that Jones “went from mercenary to altruist” (Temple of Doom).

          The only important fatal flaw Jones had is that he always put his artifacts above human beings(relationships). He kept Marion tied up in the tent to chase the ark, he could not seriously threaten to blow up the ark to save Marion’s life, he almost couldn’t let go of the holy grail…

          But he did let go of the grail when his father connects with him and he realizes its about time he put people in front of artifacts.

          IMHO that’s what Spielberg meant when he mentioned that he was done with Jones’ character after “…The Last Crusade.”

          • in television? hell yes. Season long arcs are a modern invention, used to be that you had your group of characters and they were pretty much fixed types, and each episode was the characters dealing with some isolated dilemma, that would then not be even remarked upon again. Kirk was the same Kirk from episode one he was by the season finale. The Star Trek Abrams is harkening back to is the old tv show (not saying he is abiding by the old rules of dramatization) but I don’t think he is nearly as obsessed with character growth and development like something you would see in Mad Men… it is still default storytelling, and what is more important is the adventure and the mystery device to get you on the edge of that adventure clean of expectation.

          • I mean would you really want Kirk to become any less Kirk, Spock to become any less Spock, Bones to be any less Bones? There is a reason to downplay character development in pulp genre stories such as Trek.

          • I can’t actually believe that the Row Three Argument Machine has de-evolved to the point where there are actually people on BOTH SIDES of whether or not arcs in a piece of dramatic storytelling are ostensibly a good thing.


          • um, not whether or not (character) arcs in a piece of dramatic storytelling are ostensibly a good thing…

            but whether or not over-emphasizing their importance while under-valuing the immediacy of episodic adventure storytelling is a good thing.

            I would think you especially would get this Matt, being one who had a personal epiphany watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Or was it the ostensibly great character arc development of Captain Jack Sparrow that made it all worthwhile?

    • And I’m sorry, the “there weren’t arcs before so there don’t need to be now” line is just bullshit. I don’t care what “era” Star Trek comes from. The FILM BEFORE THIS ONE had character arcs. It isn’t unreasonable to expect this one to have character arcs.

      • it has arcs and they are grace notes… the first film has to take a bunch of disparate characters and get them into their respective roles, an origin story necessitates upfront and center arcs because character becomes story. Now they are in their respective roles and adventure can begin, no longer the baggage of getting characters to where they need to be, they can just be.

        I admit, it could of had strong arc narrative storytelling, I am just saying it wasn’t necessary anymore than Indy needs such. ADVENTURE

        • The role of the arc in the modern blockbuster and previous Star Trek films is irrelevant. Star Trek Into Darkness clearly is attempting arcs.The question is whether they’re doing it in a way that adds or subtracts from the movie.

          • the main arc attempted is friendship, obstacles are brought in to allow for a role reversal so the friendship between Kirk and Spock can be strengthened, that an empathetic bond can be found between an emotions first character and an over-thinking one. Kirk takes the only logical option to save his crew, Spock learns the meaning of friendship and gets medieval on Kahn’s ass.

            and there are space fights, and funny lines, and impossible scenarios that are narrowly missed, and it is fun. and the arcs are grace notes to the fun. You cannot dissect the movie to find the fun-bone.

          • See, this is where I think the movie missteps because it’s so concerned with cramming in twists and action at regular intervals. Other than the characters saying it, there’s really no evidence that Kirk and Spock are particularly close.

            They apparently don’t talk much, as Kirk is surprised with Spock’s report. Kirk doesn’t seem to know what’s going on with Spock and Uhura and asks her on at least one occasion what’s it like to fight with him. They certainly don’t socialize together, as Kirk is obvious more interested in chasing tail than hanging out with Spock. Perhaps it’s because they want Kirk to be young and extreme, they don’t even go for the tried and true Chess game between friends.

            Compare that with Star Trek II, where’s there’s plenty of evidence of how close they are. Birthday gifts, Kirk going to Spock when he’s going to take command of the Enterprise to smooth things over, a shared history that comes up on occasion, and Kirk instantly picking up on Spock’s coded message.

          • I agree with rot, totally.

            Within the first 10 minutes I knew what my characters are going to have to learn throughout this story.

            — KIRK has to learn that he cannot save everyone and sometimes “the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few.”

            — SPOCK has to learn to tell “lies”(or technical truth) that he is unable to do as a Vulcan. And sometimes its important to show emotions in front of the humans that he bottles up inside.

            — UHURA has to learn that Spock does feel emotion (toward her and others) and deeply.

            Did they learn by the end? check, check, check.

            ** Sorry for the late post.

    • One mention of ‘arcs’ and people start seeing them everywhere.
      ‘Story arcs’ and ‘character arcs’ is TV writers room jargon, used as generalised terms for shaping out episodic television, and at some point it’s filtered out and now all film and TV criticism is some sub AV Club chatter about arcs and thru-plotlines and callbacks, and is just drivel mostly.

      imo, the popular idea that story = arc and vice versa is reductive and specious. I mean, you can take story structure back to Aristotle, but although there’s a venn overlap, I feel that arcs and story (inc. character) don’t mean the same thing.

      Actually, who cares. I’m out.

  3. listening to the podcast now. You both mention that STID is like a best-of hits of Wrath and you found yourselves watching all the pieces falling into place… to me it was no more than Prometheus to Alien. There are easter eggs to be had, but if anything the criticism I hear is how little this seems like Kahn – it is hardly a rehash of the same plot. There are pieces that draw parallels (albeit indirectly) with the original, but the whole torpedo-pods, the Klingons, the Peter Weller character (who is the villain for a bulk of the run-time) the covert black Enterprise, the lack of a Genesis device … none of this feel beholden or a retread of the original. Even the character of Kahn is reformed to be almost unrecognizable.

    I am not familiar with the tv episodes relating to Kahn, maybe that bleeds over, I don’t know.

  4. Long, relevant conversation with Damon Lindelof:

    Here, he gives the reason for burning the Khan card as: it gives them license to stop servicing the existing content and start telling new stories. Well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    This is not the long, relevant conversation with Lindelof that I mention in the podcast, by the way. So just for completeness’ sake, here’s that one too:

    Interesting to me that Lindelof – who professes to have serious psychological problems dealing with criticism – has essentially nominated himself as the media face of every project he’s involved in, from LOST to PROMETHEUS to STAR TREK. I think he’s very good at it and I’d be devastated if he stopped, but boy, Price’s Christ metaphor gets more and more apt by the year…

  5. repost my comment from Matt Brown’s Twitch article (, why not…

    its nerdism, a genre unto itself. the hall of mirrors is your own obsessions playing back to you, and they make billions of bucks because there is a whole micro-autistic culture of film geeks that are archiving cinema rather than experiencing it, and this kind of in-the-know is what made the subtext easter eggs of Lost into front and center text with the future incarnation storytelling.

    It is an aesthetic. Tastes can be discerning, but in and of itself it matters how the aesthetic is used and to what effect. If it is just name-dropping, winking, branding, toy-merchandising, source material circle jerk, that it is a vapid application of the aesthetic, the same way one can play with Americana as an aesthetic but saturate it Michael Bay style to something reeking of car commercials.

    I don’t think Abrams’ Star Trek use of nerdism aesthetic is vapid, and in particular with Into Darkness, I don’t think he is operating paint-by-number in strict observation of Wrath of Khan… in fact there are so many dissimilarities between the two projects (to the very look and behavior of Kahn) that most people are bitching about why it should even be called a Kahn movie. This story is not just a reboot, or reboquel as you said, it is an alternate universe which allows for in the narrative explicit some unique privilege to the homages that are sprinkled through – there may even be a long-term narrative thrust (akin to Lost) to show how behaviors in different realities may not be coincidental but driven by some yet unseen cosmic force. On that level at least Abrams is doing something new with the concept of homage. I don’t think Into Darkness is as slavish to the source material as you let on. There are the same characters because in the alternate universe they exist, and there is a knowing, nerdist re-calibrating of the experience in foreknowledge (like the audience) of what came before (an attitude of storytelling being ‘one of us’ rather than behaving aloof to that reality of nerdism). But Into Darkness is an original story that just uses the previous for grace notes only.

    It plays with geek expectations but it does it to their advantage, what they THINK they know about what will happen, subverting it in points while all the while creating a movie experience that is meant to be fun albeit less goofy than its predecessor. You want to hang out with this crew, you are in a somewhat familiar world, but different, and the dissonance creates a tension that would not be their otherwise had this been your father’s Trek. Rather than submerge fully into nostalgia wankery, he uses it as a platform to tell new stories… the cinematic equivalent of what in comic books I believe are called “what ifs”.

    The point is not how this fits into a neat canon to obsess over… it is to pull the rug from under the fans, use what they know against them, so as to jolt them into an experience. Nerdist as a narrative tactic as much as a nostalgic flourish.

  6. Listening to the show. I don’t care enough about many franchises to really get upset about anything, but hearing you talk about it, it feels like you’re grading this one on a curve vs. in your words “A proper Star Trek movie”.

    It’s that kind of fan ownership over properties, be it Indiana Jones or Les Miz, that just gets me shaking my head again at fan culture. There’s so little license out there to mess with anything that the more they are catered to, the more it ends up like the Itchy and Scratchy Poochie focus group which as we all know turns out greeeeeeeeat. But they still want to be in that focus group.

    I mean, in this show you’re upset that they didn’t just talk about Khan in advance of release. Now… if you had LIKED the movie as many apparently do and they had advertised Khan, there’d be if not from you, then from many others, anger the other way about the state of the internet having to know everything and blah blah how studios need to hype stuff up instead of letting us have surprises anymore. It’s a no-win scenario.

    At any rate, I was down on the first Trek initially. I got over it. To me this new one is more of what works in the first one, which is strong character dynamics and performances and some above average action scenes with traces of things to chew on but not a real meal. Which in the end makes a decent albeit not fantastic popcorn flick. I would’ve been one of the good Cinemascores you refer to, you’ve got points there, as I wouldn’t push anyone to Trek really.

    But that score has reflected on some others. The Croods, for example.

  7. Modern audiences have gone from nascent pop-cultural awareness to militant pop-cultural archivists concerned with canon and its preservation. Perhaps an offshoot of us all becoming exhibitionists by cultural circumstance, there has quickly developed a spirited urgency in a larger subset of the film-going audiences to claim membership to exclusive clubs of which they are proud co-arbiters of its meanings.

    Films meant for these audiences can either pander to what the groups think they require or find a way to agitate the self-entitled into an unplanned experience (best tinged with a nostalgia of their youth, when they once had a spark of spontaneity left to their feelings).

    Marvel tends towards the former option, rarely straying far enough to challenge, wishing instead to indulge the archivist’s sense of the familiar so that they relax into a comfortable fog of their own myopic pleasures.

    The Abrams/Lindeloff/mysterybox approach is the latter, but distinct in one respect from most in that they use geek fetishism as a narrative tactic in order to infiltrate the safe confines of geekdom and use their penchant for pattern recognition to coax them outside of their comfort zone and into spontaneous experiences. For many, this tactic can have adverse effects, rallying the wagons tighter together at first flush of being questioned. But for some geeks on the fence, geeks such as Abrams and Lindeloff, there appears to be some wish-fulfillment of allowing the unknown back into the equation, to get back to when we were kids (a staple of film geekdom) and everything felt new. You cannot redo the past because we don’t live there anymore (part of the failure of Super 8 I think is due to this shortsightedness) but you can strategically create the environment to trick us into that once plentiful place of awe. It is no longer about just making a great story that is onscreen, but making an event, a circumstance through which we can spindle away our sense of entitlement (that groupthink parasite) and become that wide-eyed boy or girl we once were.

    Now, it is a narrative tactic, a trick, a means of saving us from ourselves… in and of itself, I am not saying it is foolproof… it is not enough to get us to this moment of being open to anything, if what we are left with is not, on its own merits, satisfying. But those are two different beasts. I think the mystery box stylistic choice that Abrams uses is effective, is worthwhile and is unfairly shat upon by many. I just also happen to think the content lives up to the delivery mechanism, and for the most part he delivers the goods.

    one caveat: talking about big budget blockbuster movies, and not subscribing to auteur theory, so the final products are never quite entirely mystery box insurgencies, they still exist to make lots and lots of money, and mitigating factors allow this experiment up to a certain point, but clearly there is a bit more grit to these exercises than those typical of Marvel (though the last Iron Man appears to as a gimmick played in the realm of disrupting orthodoxy)

  8. “The Abrams/Lindeloff/mysterybox approach is the latter, but distinct in one respect from most in that they use geek fetishism as a narrative tactic in order to infiltrate the safe confines of geekdom and use their penchant for pattern recognition to coax them outside of their comfort zone and into spontaneous experiences. ”

    Nice sentence, but they very much do not do this with the last act of Trek…

    • I don’t know, how Spock behaves seems outside of the orthodox, and what happens to Kirk also. I will agree though the plot mechanics are strained, and the last ten minutes are not that great.

  9. I would like to address the box office restrictions of this Star Trek series.

    — My younger brother and his friends were not interested in seeing this movie or the previous one in a theater. (they did check out the previous one in rentals and thought it was alright.) Their main reasoning is that this series looks like a TV show. To their defense(IMHO), they did see movies like Inception, District 9 etc. in the theaters. (I have seen the 2009 film 4 times in theaters)

    My point is STAR TREK does look like a TV show because it is meant to be a TV show not big budget spectacle movies. It is just 10-15 people sitting in a lens-flared-glittery-lit room talking about mostly impersonal stuff.

    If you look at the spectacle movies they sell these days -Eiffel Tower Collapsing, New York, Chicago, London blown to hell. And the biggest set-piece of this movie is Enterprise falling out of the sky (person unfamiliar with Trek says ‘Is that a Meteor! And so what?’)

    — J.J. Abrams make everything look small scale. With his extreme tight close-ups he makes movies for iPad. (I think Mr. Ebert had the same problem with the last movie.) He is great at making small budget movies look bigger (Super 8, Cloverfield etc.) but he does completely opposite for big budget movies (MI 3 also applicable).

    — Star Trek will never be an International hit. If audience outside North America didn’t get Star Trek in the last 50 years, it’s safe to assume that they won’t in the future.

    — On a side note, James Cameron thought(re:Star Trek) this makeup-job-aliens seem too cheesy for modern audience, that is why he wanted to do Na’vi aliens the way he did. The audience who are not familiar with previous Star Treks don’t buy the Vulcan ear makeup anymore. While the fans seem completely OBLIVIOUS (as in Arrested Development) regarding this.

    I am not a Star Trek fan (although I’ve seen almost everything – the movies, TOS, TNG, DSN, Voyager, Enterprise but not the animated series). So I have a little more objective POV than many others here. And I gotta say, even James Cameron cannot make Star Trek accessible and popular for the Widest International audience.

    So I hope the producers/execs get Star Trek back to the basics with great TV shows and smaller scale movies rather than trying to fit Star Trek in the modern action-blockbuster-paradigm.


    • I don’t disagree on any particular point, except your use of the acronym DSN for Deep Space 9, because seriously – WHO DOES THAT?! Are you Khan? Q? Gary Mitchell???

      Seriously though – I don’t think it’s impossible to generate a mainstream audience for big-screen STAR TREK (they did it last time) but I do think (and I’ve been arguing this for a while now) that Abrams and Paramount owed a better long-term strategy for the franchise than what they’ve developed with INTO DARKNESS. It was one thing to somehow, miraculously convince everybody that STAR TREK was cool back in 2009, but to hang onto that audience they needed to do a better job of communicating why the franchise would be ongoingly interesting for another decade or so to come – which the new movie doesn’t do. Honestly if INTO DARKNESS is the last STAR TREK movie for ten years I doubt anyone would notice or care… although with the 50th anniversary coming in three years, it’d be a shame if they can’t pick up the baton and commemorate the occasion with something classy. If this is their QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I wanna see their SKYFALL.

  10. What I said: “There are arcs in STID but they are hardly the point of it anymore than arcs (not arks) in Indiana Jones matter, it is about pleasuring in the adventure with a group of characters that you enjoy hanging out with.”

    In certain adrenaline forms of entertainment, the arcs matter LESS THAN the enjoyment of hanging out in adventures with characters that are of a fixed episodic nature (Community is a play on this)

    See Indiana Jones, Abrams’ Start Treks, Pirates of the Caribbean.

    Something is not a significant defect of a work if it is not designed for that primary purpose. The convoluted plot mechanics of STID are there to protect the mystery, to hopefully enhance the fun of the experience. It is not there to table profound character development or sophisticated interlacing of plot and character arcs as if this was a screenwriting workshop and the issue of actual entertainment was an ancillary function. Abrams keeps his eye on the ball, he wants a popcorn movie. Less thinky, more punchy. The thinky stuff are more geek booby-traps in service of the mystery box tactic.

    to those insisting there are no character arcs:

    STID has a simple fully formed character arc for Kirk and Spock:

    “the main arc is between the friendship of Kirk and Spock, Spock learning to be less Vulcan, more human, of the characters reversing roles and in the process growing to understand one another and deepen their friendship (a keystone of the whole show). Kirk is required to self-sacrifice (of course mirroring what Spock tried to do in the beginning) and Spock is given a chance to see the experience from Kirk’s perspective. The obstacle in the arc is not Kahn, it is Spock’s Vulcan tendencies which are overcome by this role-reversal.”


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